Creating a diverse physicist research list

For the last week and a half of the school year I thought I’d give year 12 a special treat and offer them the opportunity to find out about the life of an interesting physicist. I also had to set a cover lesson due to attending some fantastic ipad training! 🙂

My first thoughts for interesting physicists were: Richard Feynman, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking... Come on! I’m not even using my brain here. Why would I tell them to go and research someone they should all have heard of already. Not. Even. Trying. Now these guys are all great and interesting, but they are likely to mostly feature in most people lists of ‘Name a physicist.’

There’s something else about that list… something that isn’t even addressed by adding in Marie Curie. It’s very white, very male, very western Europe and USA. While this does represent the majority of historically significant physicists, I just don’t think it’s good enough. Yes, I might have to dig a bit deeper to increase the diversity of my list, but I think it’s outrageous and lazy to not do that.

When I say ‘dig deeper’ of course I partly mean: ask twitter.  And a bit of :try googling it. I wonder if it’s more shocking that as someone who has been fully involved in physics for the last 20 years (omg!) I didn’t immediately have a range of diverse physicist at the forefront of my mind.

My main criteria for addition to the list, a list of 10 people btw (I have 10 students), is as follows:

  • be a physicist who has done some great research
  • have some aspect of their lives that I consider interesting
  • be a physicist who hasn’t quite achieved the world wide recognition of normal folk and possibly be someone a year 12 physicist may not know much about.

Additionally,

  • try to achieve diversity by including women, non white people, people from places other than western Europe and the USA.

So Marie Curie is out. Too famous 🙂 (But Feynman is in, because Feynman.)

Going with the not-really-universally-famous angle, my next thoughts were for Paul Dirac and Nikola Tesla. Look at how conditioned I am? 😉

I found Maria Goeppert-Mayer next. Great! and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.

Next to Twitter. Some marvellous suggestions from a whole load of twitter people. Many thanks to all of them. At the bottom of this post I will attempt to list all the physicist suggestions and also list all the twitter help I got. Bear in mind it’s not an exhaustive list. It focuses mostly on women and is a snapshot of suggestions provided by people on a wednesday morning on twitter! Some great suggestions came after I’d finalised my list too.

The final list looked like this:

I’m pretty happy with it. It’s not perfect, but it certainly serves for this application. Interesting physicists with a diverse range of people included. My year 12s will now research these people. I made a tear off list to stick on the classroom door instructing them to choose a person and tear off their name so everyone got a different physicist. Next I am going to get them to make a factual poster on them and present it to the rest of the group. A bit like at a real physics conference (if you squint and use your imagination). I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

A Twitter sourced list of interesting and diverse physicists.

Lovely, helpful twitter people.

Thank you!

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One Response to Creating a diverse physicist research list

  1. Pingback: Diverse physicist list – the posters | a physics classroom

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